by: Begley Law Group

by Thomas D. Begley, Jr., CELA

Is It Possible for Your Clients to Provide for Their Pets?

Many people want to include their pets in estate plans to ensure they will always be secure and receive quality care. While this type of planning is common, it can be fraught with emotion. It is important for clients to find someone that they trust to serve as caregiver. It is also important for clients to determine how much that caregiver will need to provide adequately for the pets.

What are the Options?

The client can choose from several alternatives.

Bequests to Caregivers

A common estate planning choice for pet owners is to make bequests to caregivers. This involves leaving the client’s pets to a specific individual or organization, along with a fixed dollar amount to help compensate the caregiver for the pets’ expenses. For example, the client’s Will might state: “I hereby leave any pets I have at the time of my death to my good friend, Sally Smith, along with the sum of $10,000 to permit her to care for my pets for the rest of their lives.”

Direction to Executor

A pet owner concerned with the proper placement of pets can also leave directions for the estate executor to make appropriate arrangements. For example, if the client wants the breeder from which the client acquired the pets to be involved in the placement decision, the Will might stipulate that the executor or personal representative will consult with that breeder. To cover the costs associated with transferring the pets, the client’s Will can permit the executor to expend a reasonable sum from the estate for such expenses as veterinary check-ups and treatment, transportation, and initial costs associated with the pets’ care.

Gifts to Shelters or Organizations

Some pet owners want to make gifts to animal protection groups, regardless of the status of their pets. For example, a Will might read: “I hereby bequest $1,000 to the Fern Hill No-Kill Cat Shelter, with the hope that the shelter will take responsibility for the care and placement of any pets I may own at the time of my death.” This type of arrangement is appropriate when making such a gift is at least as important to the client as providing for the future of the client’s pets. Even if the client no longer own pets at the time of the client’s death, the chosen shelter or organization will receive the designated token from the client’s estate.

There are a few organizations that specialize in the long-term care of pets whose owners have died. These “pet retirement homes” or sanctuaries may agree to find new homes for the client’s pets or to take care of the pets for the rest of their lives. Alternatively, several veterinary medicine schools have perpetual pet care programs that will take care of the client’s pets until suitable homes can be located. Typically, with this option, the client pays for the pets’ care through an endowment.

Pet Trusts

Historically, under American and English common law, a Trust could not be established for the benefit of a pet. Today, an individual who wants to make legally binding arrangements for the future care of a pet can do so by establishing a Trust for the pet’s benefit. The terms of the Trust can vary according to the wishes of the owner and state law. For example, if there is more than one pet, the Trust might continue until the death of the last pet, with any remaining balance then distributed to family members, caregivers or an animal rights charity.

Under the Uniform Trust Code, a Pet Trust may include provisions for someone to go to court to enforce the terms of the Trust. A Pet Trust should include provisions for the appointment of an initial and successor trustee and an initial and successor caretaker, as well as separate provisions for a trust enforcer.

How Much Should Clients Leave to Provide for Their Pets’ Care?

Regardless of the estate planning strategy the client chooses to provide for the pets, the client will need to ensure that sufficient funds are available to cover the expense of life-long care. To arrive at a reasonable estimate of what should be left to the caregiver, the client will need to consider the following:

  • Life Expectancy. What is the estimated life expectancy of each pet?
  • Annual Care Costs. Create an annual budget covering the costs of providing care for the pets. For each pet, the client should assign a dollar value to such categories as:
  • Food;
  • Dietary supplements;
  • Equipment and toys;
  • Transportation;
  • Veterinary care;
  • Inoculations and medication;
  • Surgery and other expensive treatment;
  • Boarding charges;
  • Pet sitters;
  • Pet walkers;
  • Obedience classes;
  • Other training classes;
  • Entry fees for competitions;
  • Show handlers;
  • Professional grooming; and
  • Dental care.

What Plans Should Clients Make for Their Pets’ Passing?

Many people also want to make plans for the eventual death of their pets. Considerations should include:

  • Are there any circumstances under which euthanasia should be permitted?
  • Funeral Arrangements. Does the client want the pets cremated or buried?
  • Memorial Services. Does the client want memorial services for the pets?
  • Distribution of Assets at the Death of a Pet. How does the client want the assets remaining in the pet’s Trust to be distributed at the pet’s death?
  • Charitable Intentions. Does the client want to leave assets to a charity? This could be done through the client’s Will or by leaving the balance in the Pet Trust to a charity.